Had the NFL season ended Monday night, with the Ravens holding off the Cleveland Browns, 47-42, in a delirious and delightful rivalry game, the AFC North’s reigning champions would not have made the playoffs.
It was an important win, but not a panacea. At 8-5, the Ravens enter Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars eighth in the seven-team AFC playoff field. Their hopes for another division title have been extinguished; only a wild-card bid will do.
And yet their chances of making the playoffs for the third straight season are over 90%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. With a Week 15 victory in Baltimore, they’d rise to 95%. Add wins against the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals the next two weeks, and the Ravens would be a virtual lock.
But they could also use some help. Because while the Ravens would rather make the postseason than miss it, they’d also rather make the postseason as a No. 5 seed than as a No. 7 seed. With only the AFC’s top seed getting a playoff bye this year, the second-best division champion will now face the worst wild-card team, while the worst division champion will get the best wild-card team.
The Las Vegas Raiders’ loss Thursday to the Los Angeles Chargers already helped the Ravens. Here are six other games Sunday and Monday with playoff implications:
Lions at Titans (1 p.m.)
Root for Tennessee. Thanks to their Week 11 win in Baltimore, the Titans (9-4) already have a potential wild-card tiebreaker over the Ravens. They also enter Week 15 with a slight edge over the Indianapolis Colts (9-4) in the race for the AFC South crown and the AFC’s No. 4 seed. According to Football Outsiders, however, Indianapolis is the superior team. Remember, the Ravens had Tennessee’s ground game bottled up for three quarters without top defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams active. And the Titans defense remains one of the NFL’s least impressive.
Texans at Colts (1 p.m.)
Root for Houston. Indianapolis’ chances of making the playoffs are only slightly worse than the Ravens’, according to FiveThirtyEight, but the Ravens’ Week 9 win over the Colts gives them an important tiebreaker. Indianapolis’ road to a top-four seed is already difficult; it has a worse division record than Tennessee — an important tiebreaker — and a Week 16 matchup with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. A Colts loss here would give the Ravens some breathing room.
Patriots at Dolphins (1 p.m.)
Root for New England. The Patriots’ playoff dreams are all but dead, and they can put Miami’s on life support with a win. The Dolphins (8-5) are currently the seventh and final team in the projected playoff field, edging the Ravens because of a slightly superior winning percentage in conference play. But their odds of holding on are not great. According to FiveThirtyEight, Miami’s chances of advancing to the postseason would fall from 30% to 10% with a loss to New England (6-7). The Dolphins still have to close out their regular season with games against an erratic but talented Oakland Raiders team and a strong Buffalo Bills team that might rest starters in Week 17.
Chiefs at Saints (4:25 p.m., CBS)
Root for Kansas City. The Chiefs (12-1) leapfrogged the Steelers (11-2) for the AFC’s top spot in Week 14 and probably won’t give it up. If the Ravens make it to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, they would be glad to not have to face Patrick Mahomes in the wild-card round.
Browns at Giants (8:20 p.m.)
Root for New York. Even after Monday’s loss, Cleveland (9-4) owns the AFC’s top wild-card spot in the playoff race. But if the Ravens win and Browns lose, the Ravens’ tiebreaker would kick in. Cleveland has by far the toughest game remaining on their respective schedules: a Week 17 rematch with the visiting Steelers. But who knows how low the stakes for Pittsburgh could be then? If Ravens want to take Cleveland’s No. 5 seed, it would help to win out and have the Browns drop at least one game.
Steelers at Bengals (8:15 p.m. Monday)
Root for Cincinnati. The Steelers are two-touchdown favorites, so don’t get too invested, especially with a Week 16 game against Indianapolis looming. But if Pittsburgh has something to play for in Week 17, Cleveland should expect to face a full-strength Steelers team. That would certainly be the Ravens’ preference.